Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

THERE’S NO SUCH thing as a second chance at a first impression. No question about it, a first meeting with a client can be critical to the success of a sale. There are many aspects to creating a good impression and building rapport with the client. Failure to do so will make the sales process considerably more difficult.

Creating a good impression

It is worth pointing out at the start of this article, that a good opening, building rapport, and developing a close relationship with a client will not necessarily win you the sale. It is still necessary to identify customers’ problems and needs as well as to present appropriate products or services to address requirements. Notwithstanding, a good opening will help.

Having worked in the Philippines for nearly 25 years, I have noticed a trend in business towards casual dress. Jeans, short-sleeved shirts, and loafers seem to be de-rigueur for young sales people. Personally, I find this highly practical, and I am certainly not offended when a casually dressed salesman or woman comes to see me. But there is a difference between casually dressed and badly dressed. Unlaundered attire, “distressed” clothing such as denim with rips or tears, sparkly, spangly, or over-bright apparel more suitable for a nightclub, T-shirts, flip-flops or sandals, clothing bearing garish brand names or cartoon characters are all unacceptable. And while I appreciate that some people have to dress with a very small budget, there are some items of clothing that are just too cheap or worn looking to be acceptable.

Occasionally, I will meet a salesperson who is impeccably dressed; quite the “young executive” in his button-down collar shirt, navy-blue suit, and polished oxford shoes! However, while I appreciate the effort, in this tropical climate this is a step too far and the individual ends up looking ridiculously overdressed! My rule of thumb is to reflect on what you expect your customer to be wearing and this will determine an appropriate standard for you.

There are a few things I personally dislike; I’ll leave it up to each individual to determine what is good and what is not. I do have a dislike of cheap perfume and aftershave, especially when they are applied so liberally that they go beyond being a pleasant nuance to a full frontal chemical attack. Good quality, applied sparingly, should be the rule. My brother, who is a senior manager of a bank in UK, rarely shaves, and is comfortable going to the office with a fairly hefty covering of stubble. I don’t particularly like the look, and being somewhat old fashioned, believe that a man should never leave his house unshaven. If a beard or a mustache is worn, such should be carefully manicured and maintained. In this regard, Filipinos are luckier than most; fairer skin generally means the need to shave every day is less important. As it happens, I have a small investment in a hair salon chain. We want every one of our customers to sport a fresh, well-groomed head of hair which is easily maintained and appropriately stylish. As a child, I remember rebelling for want of long hair; my father, ever the military man, seemed to think short back and sides was acceptable for everyone. And so did everyone else so that was the style forced on me. Today, there really seems to be no standard style. Shoulder length locks seem equally acceptable as the Sinéad O’Connor look. But for goodness sake, keep it clean and tidy using appropriate quantities of product to keep everything in place.

Weather is always going to be a factor. Being caught out in a tropical downpour will do its worst to the most well-groomed individual. Summer heat will take the creases out and put the wrinkles in! And remember, no matter how well-scrubbed you are when leaving the house in the morning, as the day wears on there is always a risk of body odor. For what it is worth, I’ll point out that foreigners tend to have a bad reputation in this regard. There is a simple reason; body odor tends to be more prevalent in those who have a diet with a high dairy content. Diets in the Philippines are changing. So if you chug down a glass of milk in the morning, enjoy a scoop of ice cream, and use a lot of butter in your cooking, expect to gain the same reputation as us! Or make sure you use a good deodorant and change your clothes frequently.

I always have a fresh shirt in my car ready to change into if the need arises. A habit I have picked up from my Filipino colleagues it to brush my teeth after each meal, not just at the start and end of each day. I use aftershaves and colognes because I like the smell; not in some vain attempt to cover an unwashed and un-fresh smell. All of this is sound, simple a common sense advice which will go some way to create that great first impression.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.